Heroes of Might and Magic III
Heroes III is a dream come true for meticulous armchair generals.
You could easily argue that Heroes II lacked any major design novelties for it to be considered a sequel in the purest sense of the word – and not a remake, which it most certainly was – and to a greater extent the same holds true for Heroes of Might and Magic III. There is nothing here that drastically departs from the original gameplay, and yet it still manages to deliver a unique, engrossing, and monstrously addictive, if woefully unforgiving, gaming experience.
Central to the game are your Heroes, pivotal characters who lead armies into battle, capture towns and resources and defeat enemies for gold and experience. Your Heroes don’t participate in fighting per se, but rather support your armies with devastating spells that can turn the tide of battle, lending a tremendously deep strategic layer to combat. On the other hand you have towns which you must built up to produce better troops for your Heroes to command.
Heroes III is essentially broken down into three strata of gameplay – a city-building phase where you consolidate your home towns and seek to build the best buildings and troops. An exploratory phase where your Heroes march around the map, waging war for resources, gold and glory. And a strategic map where you get a hands-on command of your troops as they do battle.
Every facet of this game is turn-based, from town building to hero movement and combat. Each hero has a limited number of movement points, and once exhausted, you have to click on the End Turn button for other players to make their own moves. Combat is somewhat similar. Once you engage with an enemy army, you’ll enter a battle map with stacks of units taking turns bashing, flailing or mauling each other into oblivion.
Dragons and Troglodytes
The amount of stuff featured in Heroes III is indeed mind-boggling, and hard to cover completely. There are a total of eight warring races in the game, each with its own respective town and assemblage of unit types. Castles, for instance, are an exclusively Human establishment, and as such will only produce run-of-the-mill Human units (like Pikemen, Cavalry, Archers, etc).
Each of the eight races have their own mold of units which are analogous to each other – made up of one or two types of disposable grunts – cheap but effective en masse; at least one ranged unit, a fast flyer, a cavalry unit, a lumbering behemoth – totaling seven types in total. Heroes can, of course, conquer enemy towns and lead foreign armies at will, but they are usually more efficient with their own.
At the end of the day, however, it’s ultimately down to how well you manage your Heroes and their arsenal of units and spells on the battlefield. Nicely polished is the RPG component implemented for Heroes – their attributes are made up of four major categories that will rise according to which combat aspirations your Hero will lean towards (be it ‘Might’ or ‘Magic’). There are also a bunch of secondary skills to attain, covering anything from seafaring navigation to increasing your luck in battle. On top of that you have a mountain of artifacts which produce all manner of strategic benefits.
The interface and some other aspects have been tinkered with, but gameplay is essentially the same as in Heroes II, giving players who are familiar with that game a winning edge. Woe be to you if you’ve never played a Heroes game in your life, for Heroes III can be quite challenging beginners. There’s an included tutorial, but it lacks any actual ingame help and requires that you constantly flip through the manual to understand vital gameplay mechanics, which just feels sloppy at best. Fortunately, the interface is so built so as to assist you whenever you’re unsure of things. Simply right click on any object, be it a resource, town, creature or skill, and you’ll get a window explaining what you’re looking at, which is remarkably helpful.
Although over forty individual scenarios are available for play, the real meat of Heroes III lies in its singleplayer campaigns. Three small sub-campaigns, each with a few well-crafted maps, are available at the start of the game. One puts you in control of Queen Catherine’s Erathian defense, another casts you as a demonic overlord attempting continental conquest, and the third gives you a chance to indulge your greedy, mercenary tendencies. Balancing seems to be slightly off at times, with several challenging starter missions thrown in a bit too early. If it’s a more accessible Heroes III is what you’re looking for, then look no further than Heroes Chronicles, a compacted version of HoMM3 suited for beginners.
You’ll definitely want to hone your skills with the singleplayer campaigns before playing online, though you shouldn’t expect much quarter as a beginner there either. The way you lose your Hero and his army outright when you are defeated in battle (or surrender) highlights just how strongly this game is rooted in its PVP pedigree – great for extended multiplayer sessions, not as much for solo missions. As you play you’ll also notice there isn’t much of a storytelling element to the campaigns. You get intermittent walls of text telling you things, and short briefing videos at the start of each mission.
Heroes III can doubtlessly be a tough nut to crack initially with its unforgiving combat and methodical gameplay, making it less than ideal for impatient strategy fans. But get past those initial bumps and you’ll find yourself going far in this remarkably deep strategy game.
System Requirements: Windows 98, 64 MB RAM, 2MB Video, 120 MB HDD Space